Tuesday, September 16, 2008

obscurity of some retreat

Voltaire in exile in England to his friend M. Nicolas-Claude Thiériot

August 12, 1726.

My dear Thiériot,
I received your letter of May 11th very late. You know how unlucky I was in Paris. The same evil fate pursues me everywhere. If the character of the hero of my poem [Henry IV in his Henriade] is as well sustained as my own ill luck, that poem will certainly succeed better than I do. You give me such touching assurances of your friendship that it is only fair I should give you my confidence. So I will confide in you, my dear Thieriot, that, a little while ago, I paid a brief visit to Paris. As I did not see you, you will know I saw nobody. I was seeking one man, who hid, like the coward he is, as if he guessed I was on his track. My fear of being discovered made me leave more hurriedly than I came. The fact is my dear Thieriot, there is every likelihood that I shall never see you again. I am still uncertain if I shall retire to London. I know that England is a land where the arts are honoured and rewarded, where there is a difference of conditions, but no other difference between men, save merit. In this country it is possible to use one's mind freely and nobly, without fear or cringing. If I followed my own inclination, I should stay here; if only to learn how to think. But I am not sure if my small fortune--eaten into by so much travelling--my health, more precarious than ever, and my love of solitude, will make it possible for me to fling myself into the hurly-burly of Whitehall and of London.

I have many introductions in England, and much kindness awaits me there: but I cannot say positively that I shall take the plunge. There are two things I must do: first, risk my life for honour's sake as soon as I can; then, end it in the obscurity of some retreat suited to my turn of mind, my misfortunes, and my low opinion of mankind.

I can cheerfully renounce my pensions from the King and Queen: my only regret being that I have not been able to arrange that you should take advantage of them. It would be a consolation to me in my solitude if I could feel I had been useful to you for once in my life: but I am fated to be wretched in every way. . . .

Farewell, my dear Thieriot: love me, despite absence and misfortune.

-from Voltaire in his Letters: Being a Selection from His Correspondence / translated with a preface and forewords by S. G. Tallentyre (New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1919] pp. 19-20.

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